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Transformation: Unhurriedness and Contemplation

Transformation Blog

 

 

Transformation: Unhurriedness and Contemplation

Brandon Cook

It’s seeing and hearing Who God is and thereby becoming open to God that transforms us.  Paul accentuates the importance of seeing God and describes it with a Greek word translated “contemplation”: the intentional act of seeing, beholding, and meditating on an image. "And we all,” he writes, “who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”[1] 

What is the veil here mentioned?  It is, Paul makes clear, a way of seeing.  Or rather, a way of not seeing.  A filter, if you will, and specifically a filter which keeps us only seeing an approach to God based on success and on “getting everything right” rather than embracing and celebrating our weakness, humbling ourselves before God.  (In the same letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes that “God’s power works best in weakness.”[2])  This filter, for the Jews, was the Jewish Law, the five books of the Torah. But we humans are always re-creating laws for our own time and context by which we can focus on impressing others or coming to God based on our success rather than embracing the call to rejoice in our weakness, our unsortedness, our "not having everything together" or "figured out."[3]

Indeed, The Slow Life is connected to the contemplative Christian tradition of creating space to see and hear God so that we can escape merely human ways of thinking about what success is and so that, in quiet, our addiction to noise and our fixation on success can be confronted. In unhurriedness, we are invited not only to be free, but also to be weak. To accept our limitations. To say "no" rather than believing we must always say "yes." To confess we can not be all things and be all places. God, after all, is not, as Henri Nouwen says, concerned primarily with success or strength.  He’s focused, rather, on fruitfulness.[4]  And fruitfulness cannot fully take place in us without a commitment to unhurriedness. There's no other means by which we can become open to God and His work within us.

Fruit, it must be said, is produced by the Spirit within us.[5]  We don’t produce it; rather, it is produced in us as we become open to God.  This is not word-play.  This is a fundamental reality of spiritual life which you must awaken to if the branch of your life is to be filled with the fruit of the vine (to use another New Testament metaphor).[6]  Again, we only become open with any consistency when we have some dedicated space in which we practice unhurriedness. Contemplating Jesus, as Paul means it, surely involves moving at a pace at which we can be present with the world around us and our own spirit and body.

Imagine Moses--he of the unveiled face--ascending Sinai to behold God. Imagine him measuring every footfall. Imagine him fully present in his approach of the Divine. We need some such space in our own lives, to come before the God of burning fire. It may be a long walk around our neighborhood each morning. It may mean deep breaths as we welcome the Spirit of God. Heck, I do some of my best unhurried slowing down and prayer in the shower.  Whatever the case, we must develop a liturgy and a life of habits in which we have time practicing slowing down and being present. As we practice unhurriedness, we will grow in our ability to inhabit quiet spaces well.

When I am moving too fast for too long, I have a practice which helps bring me back into awareness of God's presence. I ask, "What do I hear?" and I listen to the noises  around me, naming each thing. I do that with every sense: "What do I see?" "What do I taste?" "What do I smell?" "What do I feel?" By bringing myself into contact with my body, I bring myself back into an unhurried awareness of God who created all and who dwells nearer than my very breath. In this awareness of God (who of course, is  with me even when I am unaware), there is space to become grounded again in the love which produces fruit within.  

Whatever the practice and however we create unhurried space and margin, such space is needed to receive God's work. As sure as the farmer needs sunshine, so we need unhurriedness to see and be transformed by God.

 

[1] 2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV

[2] 2 Corinthians 12:9

[3] Again, 2 Corinthians 12:9

[4] Henri Nouwen.  Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith.  HarperOne, 1997.  Reading for January 4th. 

[5] See Galatians 5:22-23.  “But the Holy Spirit produces (emphasis mine) this kind of fruit in our lives…”

[6] John 15:5